Long term drug rehabilitation: What can I expect?

Long term treatment at a drug rehabilitation center lasts from three (3) months up to a year, or longer. Learn more about what happens during this time here. Then, we invite your questions at the end.

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If it has taken you months or years to develop an addiction, why would you think that it can be resolved in 28 days?

In fact, addiction is a chronic brain disorder. Occasional relapse is common, especially for strong psychoactive drugs like meth, cocaine, or opiates, but prescription drug addiction and alcohol addiction are no different. And in many cases a short-term, one-time treatment is usually not sufficient. Add to that a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder…and a stay at a short term rehab center may just bring you back to using again.

For many, drug addiction recovery is a long term process that involves multiple interventions and regular monitoring. So, what is rehab and can you expect rehab to work when considering a long term stay at a rehabilitation center? We review here. Then, we invite your questions about drug rehabilitation at the end.

Why consider long term drug rehabilitation?

A long term drug rehabilitation program is a type of drug addiction treatment that requires a person to dedicate a great deal of time to getting clean and sober. In fact, long term inpatient drug rehab often involves a long stay in a residential rehabilitation facility. These rehab programs can last anywhere from a few months to a year, or more.

However, research has shown without a doubt that good outcomes REQUIRE adequate treatment length. Generally, for residential or outpatient treatment, participation for less than 90 days is of limited effectiveness, and treatment lasting significantly longer is recommended for maintaining positive outcomes. And while entering long term drug rehabilitation can be a difficult decision to make, for some people, it’s the best decision.

What happens during long term drug rehabilitation

Because addiction is typically a chronic disease, people cannot simply stop using drugs for a few days and be cured. Most people require long-term or repeated visits to treatment centers to achieve sustained abstinence and recovery. Here’s a general idea of what you can expect when you decide to go to a rehabilitation center for the long term:

1. Assessments will guide your treatment plan

An initial evaluation and assessment is usually performed as part of the intake process to a long term drug rehabilitation program. During the intake assessment, addiction specialists (such as a team of psychologists and psychiatrists) determine the severity of the addiction as well diagnose underlying mental health conditions. These can commonly include conditions like anxiety, depression, PTSD, or schizophrenia.

A treatment plan is usually created at this time, but your progress will be assessed throughout your stay. For example, your personal strengths, goals, family, and social supports will change over time. And your readiness and motivation for change are extremely important factors for your treatment team. Long term rehabilitation assessments can include the following:

  • Substance abuse evaluation
  • Mental health evaluation
  • Health and medical evaluation
  • Financial considerations
  • Your personal status

2. Medical detox for drug or alcohol dependence

Drugs need to be out of your system before you can focus on the mental and emotional aspects of addiction, known as psychological dependence. This is why most addicts undergo medical detox before entering a long term rehab facility. Medical supervision is always recommended during this process, and detox enables people to go through withdrawal safely and more comfortable. Medications may be prescribed during the process to address wither withdrawal symptoms or cravings.

3. Intensive treatment modalities

Long term residential treatment provides care 24 hours a day, generally in non-hospital settings. Many programs focus on the “resocialization” of the individual and use an entire community (other residents, staff, and the social context) as active components of treatment. Addiction is viewed in the context of an individual’s social and psychological deficits, and treatment focuses on developing personal accountability and responsibility as well as socially productive lives.

Treatment during long term drug rehabilitation is highly structured and can be confrontational at times, with activities designed to help you question damaging beliefs, self-concepts, and destructive patterns of behavior. You will encounter lots of group work based on psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, and educational sessions. The idea is that you beging to adopt new, constructive ways to interact with the world. In some cases, family therapy may be used. But generally, expect lots of group work which is complemented by individual one-on-one meetings with a licensed clinical psychologist.

4. You may be prescribed medications to help

Studies have shown that the use of medications during drug rehabilitation may increase the chances of a successful recovery for some people. Medications used to treat addiction usually are prescribed to address any of these main goals:

  • Address and minimize drug craving
  • Delay drug withdrawal
  • Eliminate the pleasure obtained from certain drugs
  • Treat underlying mood disorders
  • Treat underlying mental health disorders

5. Skills development, personal growth, and support services

Many long term drug rehabs also offer comprehensive services, which can include employment training and other support services. Some of these facilities can help recovering addicts find employment, find childcare, or finish school. These centers may also be able to help you identify financial sources for treatment or find emotional support during this difficult time.

Educating you about addiction is another one of the main goals of long term addiction treatment. During treatment, you will often have to attend several addiction education sessions, which help you better understand  addiction and how to cope with it.

6. Regular drug testing

Once you complete detox, regular (sometime random) drug testing helps ensure that all traces of drugs and alcohol are out of the body. Long term rehabilitation centers need to be safe for all…and these drug tests help secure the facility for everyone: both staff and patients.

Can you leave long term drug rehabilitation before completion?

No one is forced to stay in any type of drug rehabilitation. You may leave long term drug rehabilitation before completion at any time. However, doing so may have some serious consequences.

If you were ordered by a court to complete a drug rehabilitation program as part of a sentencing, you may be subject to incarceration or additional fines if you leave early. Insurance companies and financial aid programs will also typically refuse to pay for any treatment that you did not complete, leaving you with a hefty bill.

The biggest disadvantage to leaving long term drug rehabilitation before completion, though, is not losing your freedom or money. It’s losing your self-control and the trust of your loved ones. Leaving a treatment program early puts you at a much higher risk for relapse. You will have wasted the precious time spent in rehab, and will most likely be able to stay clean and sober for very long. This can lead to health, legal, and family problems down the road.

Visiting someone in long term drug rehabilitation

In general, most long term drug rehabilitation facilities do allow close loved ones to visit from time to time. Some facilities designate a few hours on specific days, while other may allow overnight or weekend visits in certain cases. Still, every facility has different rules.

Before visiting someone in long term rehabilitation, it’s important that you contact the facility. Staff members will be able to give you more details about visitation and inform you of any rules that you need to abide by. For instance, you’ll most likely not be able to bring certain items, such as cell phones, razors, or mouthwash. While the banning of items may seem silly to you, it is to help ensure the safety and health of both the recovering addicts and their guests. You will also probably be asked to keep physical contact with your loved one to a minimum for the same reasons.

You may be asked to participate in family therapy when visiting someone in long term drug rehabilitation. By doing so, you can help rebuild bonds and trust that was broken when your loved one was struggling with his addiction. Your participation also shows your loved one that you support him in his recovery, and can help you better understand addiction in general.

What to expect AFTER long term drug rehabilitation

Even after completing a long term drug rehabilitation program, most recovering addicts will find that they still have a long road ahead of them. Anticipating the next step can be difficult, since everyone usually has an individualized aftercare plan. Two recommendations are commonly made:

1. Attend an outpatient treatment program. Most addiction aftercare plans include an outpatient care plan. After leaving the rehabilitation facility, a recovering addict will often attend several outpatient therapy sessions each month, and sometimes daily. The number of visits each month will gradually lessen over time as you become more confident in your ability to resist the temptation of drugs. Group therapy meetings and attendence at self-help group meeting are also  encouraged after long term drug rehabilitation as well.

2. Seek transitional housing. Since the move from a safe, sober environment to the outside world can be a shock, people in recovery may also choose to live in a halfway house for a short period of time. Halfway houses are transitional living facilities that provide recovering addicts with a safe, sober environment to live in until they are ready to go back into society. There are usually a small group of recovering addicts residing in a halfway house at one time, so this also gives recovering addicts the chance to discuss their difficulties with like-minded individuals.

Long term drug rehabilitation expectations

For those entering long term drug rehabilitation, expectations of what will happen during treatment can be confusing and intimidating. Hopefully, we’ve answered many of your questions about the process. If you or a loved one have any additional questions regarding the rehabilitation process for addiction, feel free to leave them in the comments section below. Our goal is to inform and educate our readers, and help them make the best possible choices when it comes to treatment.

Reference Sources: NIDA: Types of treatment programs
SAMHSA Tip 42: Chapter 6 Traditional Settings and Models
Department of Child Welfare: Substance use Chapter 5
Department of Health and Human Services: A report to Congress on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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